Despite the war, the possibility of resumption of one of Ukrainian  airports is periodically discussed in the mass media. Moreover, high-ranking officials are suggesting it. The operation of Israeli airports during hostilities is considered a successful case. However, this idea should be regarded with skepticism on the evidence of the recent Russian missile attack on the Zaporizhia airport terminal. In the last instance, willingness (or unwillingness) of airlines to fly to Ukraine is the real indicator of  how realistic this idea is.

(Not) crazy ideas

Visiting in November 2023 the USA the head of the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine (OP) hinted at the possibility of resumption of one of the civilian airports even before the end of the war. Although Andriy Yermak  did not name this airport, it was obviously one of the airports in the west of Ukraine. And even in 2022, the The Ministry for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine (Ministry of Infrastructure (MIU) considered Lviv airport for possible resumption of operations. According to the words of Oleksandr Kubrakov who was the head of the ministry at the time, technically it would take up to two weeks to resume airport operation. But in practice, this will be possible only if there are security guarantees.

Another voiced idea is to start resuming the operation of Ukrainian airports from Uzhhorod. The runway here ends at the border with Slovakia. So that airliners would take off and land in EU airspace (although this airport has a number of other restrictions.) This fact could be in favor of this idea. "It is possible to try to restore air traffic at Lviv and Uzhhorod airports on the condition that NATO provides air defense of the western regions," commented former Deputy Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine Viktor Dovhan in a column for CFTS.

Meanwhile, in January of this year, the Deputy Head of the OP Rostyslav Shurma reported in Davos, Switzerland, that currently the Ukrainian authorities focused the efforts on restoring the operation of the Boryspil airport (it is located near Kyiv). "I can say that we are working very intensively on the restoration of air traffic in Ukraine... We will definitely do everything possible to implement it," he said.



In order for at least one of those variants to work, Ukraine, in cooperation with partners, needs to fulfill two key tasks – to ensure flight safety and implement risk insurance instruments. Ukrainian officials assure that both of them are theoretically possible.

Ex-head of MIU Oleksandr Kubrakov, in particular, regarding the Lviv airport, said that technically its opening could be implemented according to a certain model of the "grain initiative" so that Ukraine would receive security guarantees from international partners and the UN.

Rostislav Shurma also emphasized the importance of insurance. "The possibility of resuming air traffic in Ukraine depends on the decisions of international partners, independent regulators (in particular, the European aviation regulator IATA), insurance companies... We face the same task: to create the proper risk instruments so that airlines can fly to Kyiv, which we plan to open." , – said the Deputy Head of the OP.

However, the most important task is, of course, flight safety. "Our team and the military are closely cooperating with Israeli colleagues to study their experience. We are absolutely sure that we will succeed," assured Rostislav Shurma. Former Deputy Prime Minister for Reconstruction Oleksandr Kubrakov appealed to Israeli experience when it became known that Ukraine had started negotiations with US and EU regulators regarding the resumption of passenger air traffic. "There are not many examples in the world of airports operating where drones or missiles can arrive at any time. Israel is the most successful example. We spent a lot of time and continue to consult with the Civil Aviation Administration of Israel," he argued.

Aviation experts, in their turn, draw attention to the fact that in wartime, aviation is probably not the most dangerous transport. "Civil airliners can fly between attacks... And try to explain why the railway is not closed. The main danger is on the ground. And in this sense, the railway is more vulnerable because of more means and methods of being damaged. Airliners are in danger mainly during takeoff and landing. When they have gained altitude, the situation is completely different. Air defense and other means allow us to understand and assess the danger in a certain way," argued in Facebook the aviation lawyer, a partner of ANTE law firm Andriy Guck.

A similar opinion is held by Olivier Jankovec, Director General of Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE). “Despite the military risks, Ukraine does not stop trains, and they are very slow, unlike planes. However, for some reason, everyone has decided that aviation is more dangerous.. Moreover, there are technologies to make flights safe even in the current environment,” he said in an interview to Interfax-Ukraine. For this, according to him, it is necessary in particular to make sure that the air defense system is located where it should be and to resolve issues with insurance companies. “The Ukrainian government has to complete a safety analysis and on that basis prepare and approve a document – NOTAM”. After that, EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) will make a recommendation to European airlines that it is safe to fly within the designated air corridors in Ukraine… These issues have been looked at  over the past months, and I really hope we can make progress,” he said. Jankovec thinks we need to insist that it happen now. And hopes that flights to and from Ukraine can be resumed by the end of this year.

"To date, all options that have an opportunity to ensure operational activity and flight safety at a level acceptable for civil aviation are being considered. The opening of airspace is a complex decision that must be taken by the regulator of civil aviation of Ukraine together with the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other power structures," summarize on this occasion at the Ukrainian State Air Traffic Services Enterprise (UkrSATSE).


Operating availability 

UkrSATSE is ready to provide air navigation services "in the configuration of the airspace that will be determined in accordance with the decisions of the regulator.” “But, when the decision to open the airspace will be made at the state level, it will need a certain time to restore services measured in weeks," the officials said.

UkrSATSE made a comment to CFTS. It already has a plan of measures to restore air navigation services, agreed with the State Aviation Service of Ukraine. It "covers a full range of interrelated areas," including security, infrastructure, personnel, equipment and facilities, procedures and other measures.

Despite the dynamics of military actions, the amount of losses and damages, the state enterprise continues to work. It maintains technical conditions of air navigation infrastructure and supports the staff to keep  professional skills.

"Subjects of aviation activity of Ukraine take all necessary measures to maintain operational availability for recovery: the technical condition of the infrastructure is maintained, systematic work is carried out to train operational personnel, strategic safety and operational documents are developed... We coordinate it with our partners (aviation regulators of the USA, Europe, the European Commission, Eurocontrol and other international institutions). Special emphasis is placed on the resuming flights to Ukrainian airports, so we are keeping contact with them. And we comprehend the next steps to achieve our strategic goal,” UkrSATSE responded to the CFTS.

What do (not) say in airlines?

The decisive factor in the possible resumption of flights to Ukraine even during the war will be the willingness for this on the part of airlines. Here we can draw an analogy with the case of the sea corridor and shipowners.

In March, Oleksandr Kubrakov stated officially that some European airlines are interested to be the first in the resumption of the Ukrainian air market. However, he refused to name them. He also talked about negotiation with three Ukrainian air airlines.

That is why CFTS asked a number of airlines a question whether they are ready to return to our air market now. All of them flew to Ukraine before the war.

According to our information, on the sidelines of the already mentioned forum in Davos it was rumored that Qatar Airways was allegedly interested in resuming flights to one of the Ukrainian airports. Before the war, the Qatar company flew, in particular, to Boryspil. The press service regretfully did not respond to several requests from us. But taking into account the geopolitical component, the return of Qatar Airways would seem logical. Because it is unlikely that the Russians would dare to harm the carrier of a country friendly to Iran, which, moreover, continues to fly to the Russian Federation.

Among other companies from which we have not gotten answers: Flydubai, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa.

However, Switzerland's SWISS commented to CFTS: "We will be ready to resume operations once all relevant authorities and our own safety & security experts declare flight operations as safe and secure, once all relevant operating permissions are re-confirmed by the authorities, and once the airport & ATC infrastructure is operational. The exact lead time from the moment the conditions are met until the actual restart of operations will depend on various operational factors but we’d try to keep this as short as possible."

"Before the war, we operated to Kiev and had planned to launch operations to Odessa in July 2022, which unfortunately never materialized. Once the conditions are met, we will prioritise restarting our service to Kiev and reconsider Odessa," the Swiss company added.

Additional new destinations in the west or elsewhere in Ukraine would be jointly evaluated with our Lufthansa Group partners and could be added if the market is considered as attractive. “As flight operations to Ukraine are currently not possible, it is difficult to assess the commercial attractiveness of the market as of today. However, we firmly believe in the future potential of the market as we were quite happy with the passenger development before the war began,” summarized in Zurich.

LOT responded in a similar spirit. “Ukraine remains a very important market for LOT Polish Airlines. Returning to the flight operations we carried out before the war is constantly a focus of our attention. At the same time, a prerequisite for resuming flight operations is meeting the aviation safety requirements specified by EASA. Air connections to Ukraine can only be resumed if 100% of these requirements are fulfilled”, the Polish company commented to CFTS. “We are also ready to offer our knowledge and experience in resuming air traffic over Ukraine when it is possible,” LOT added.

Wizz Air assured that the Ukrainian market remains very important for the company, but did not provide any other details. "We constantly evaluate its capabilities and carefully monitor the current situation. However, Wizz Air adheres to its policy of not speculating about future plans. As soon as we have relevant information, we will immediately inform you," the company responded to the request of CFTS.

In March, the head of Air Baltic, Martin Gauss, promised to resume flights to Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa, but "as soon as the airspace is open and safe." Actually, when EASA will declare that flights to Ukraine are safe. Then the Latvian carrier plans to fly to Lviv airport and to Boryspil. It is planned that there will be seven weekly flights to Kyiv from Riga, four flights from Vilnius, and three flights from Tallinn. There will be four, two and one flights to Lviv from these cities, respectively.

Earlier, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary announced that Ryanair would be ready to quickly resume flights to Ukraine once the airspace is declared safe. He assured that it will take approximately two weeks for the company to resume flights to Ukraine. He even promised to launch 30 routes within a year after returning to Ukraine.

Last summer, O'Leary and other representatives of the low-cost airline visited Boryspil airport. Then the press service of the Ukrainian airport reported on a detailed discussion of the partnership because of the airline's strategic plan "for the rapid resumption of air space, immediately after the victory of Ukraine and EASA's confirmation of the safety of flights in Ukrainian skies."

The Ukrainian airline SkyUp responded to CFTS in the same spirit: although the first flights may be launched already a few days after the resumption of air traffic, a full recovery may take several months. The main thing is to ensure flight safety.

"For the opening of any airport under conflict conditions, it is crucial to ensure flight safety, which involves active cooperation with the global aviation ecosystem. This ecosystem includes world and regional organizations. The decision to open airports will be made after a comprehensive analysis carried out by the aviation authorities of Ukraine, taking into account military-political situation. The assessment will also be provided by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the competent authorities of the operator countries that operate flights to Ukraine," SkyUp explained.

The company emphasizes that it is ready to be the first to return to Ukrainian skies as soon as it opens for civil aviation. "Our work outside the borders of Ukraine allows us to maintain our air fleet in working order, and we plan to return to Ukrainian skies as soon as possible with new experience and high standards of service," the company said.

As we can see, for obvious reasons, airlines do not announce their plans, even if there were such plans. However, it is obvious that in order to restore the operation of at least one airport during the full-scale war, companies need clear plans for ensuring flight safety. As well as an understanding of insurance instruments and other aspects of interaction with the state and aviation regulators under current force majeure circumstances.